For cell–cell recognition molecules, it is highly likely that their structures and behavior have been optimized in ways that overcome the limitations of membrane tethering. In particular, the ligand binding regions of these proteins likely need to be maximally exposed. Here we show by means of atomistic simulations of membrane-bound CD2, a small cell adhesion receptor expressed by human T-cells and natural killer cells, that the presentation of its ectodomain is highly dependent on membrane lipids and receptor glycosylation acting in apparent unison. Detailed analysis shows that the underlying mechanism is based on electrostatic interactions complemented by steric interactions between glycans in the protein and the membrane surface. The findings are significant for understanding the factors that render membrane receptors accessible for binding and signaling.